First Night: Jenny Lewis, The Spitz, London E1

Former child star sings with purity of Patsy Cline
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The Independent Culture

She made her mark as the singer with the US alternative rock outfit Rilo Kiley; now Jenny Lewis has set out as a solo artist of some distinction.

Last year, Lewis's band made waves with its third, country-inflected album More Adventurous. For her debut release Rabbit Fur Coat, she has moved towards an even more classic sound, aided by the Kentucky Gospel duo the Watson Sisters. In fact, the album is credited to all three artists, while among other collaborators is influential singer-song writer Conor "Bright Eyes'' Oberst.

Last night Lewis had to make do without his brooding talent. Not that holding an audience's attention was difficult for the performer, who was once a famed child actor. In homage to O Brother Where Art Thou? they emerged from the audience repeating the line "Run, Devil, Run".

From then on, Lewis let the songs do the talking. She said next to nothing between them, yet carried herself with quiet assurance. It helped that she sang with the purity of a young Patsy Cline, something especially helpful on quieter numbers such as the delicate "Happy", a misnomer if ever there was one for this mournful number. Just as diffident were the Sisters, though they claimed not to be related. Nevertheless, their uncannily similar voices, rich as a fine bourbon, melted the ice of Lewis's own voice. Further subtle backing came from pedal steel and on guitar Lewis's boyfriend Johnathan Rice, to provide a dark presence in the background.

A basic line-up, yet supple enough to provide contrast and colour. On record, Lewis's voice is limited to a cute lilt. Though with these skeletal arrangements, each song became its own master class in control. The melancholy tones of "Rise Up With Fists" belied its content that mixed belligerence with wry humour. Then came the anti-religion "Born Secular", a dry number on the album. With help from the Sisters, Lewis turned it into an atheist hymn. The vocal trio singing even as they disappeared backstage.

For an encore, the threesome emerged to click fingers and sing acapella in a cross between do-wop and a Sixties girl group. "I met him on Sunday, and missed him on Monday," began the song that suited their innocent charm. It was a heartfelt pastiche, like much of Rabbit, but incredibly disarming live. To end the night, the whole troupe sang the rousing revival of "Cold Jericho". Rice took the lead to give his own bristling take on Oberst's drawl. They looked like a new Johnny Cash and June Carter. At that moment, they seized the baton.

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